After Hours

Filk mixes sci-fi and fantasy with music

Wish your musical selections contained more references to Star Trek, Tolkien, and zombies? Then you must not be listening to filk.

I'm going through a filk music phase. If you're not familiar with the genre, you might think filk is a typo, but it's not — at least on my end. About 60 years ago at a science-fiction convention, folk was misspelled filk and the name stuck.

The quality of filk music ranges wildly, from people who sing like me (I need a bushel basket to carry a tune) to award winners like Norm Sherman of Drabblecast fame. Unlike the quality, the subject matter never varies — it's always a descent into the depths of pure geekdom. Star Trek, Star Wars, Tolkien, Lovecraft, or any other science-fiction and fantasy are fodder for filk.

Consider Leslie Fish's song "Banned From Argo," which tells the tale of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise's shore leave on the planet Argo. While neither the ship nor any of the crew is mentioned by name, how many Helmsmen are into exotic plants? Or, how many engineers can drink everyone under the table? "Band from Argo" is essentially a song about a group of people who are familiar in a mostly unfamiliar situation.

Norm Sherman's filk songs draw upon Lovecraft, zombie lore, and the bizarre. His song "Heartache Over Innsmouth" is a story of college age love; unfortunately, the college is Miskatonic University, and gills are involved. But hey, you can't pick who or what you fall in love with, right?

Another song by Sherman that I like is "Juzt Mizundrstood." It's your average story about the issues relating to one's teenage years — at least it would be, if he'd left out the whole zombie angle, but there is something that just tickles my fancy about this verse:

Tell me what page it's on

In the Necronomicon

that says before the dead will walk the earth

They had to mow the lawn?

I can totally relate. It seems that some of us never outgrow our zombie tendencies.

Some mainstream music is considered filk because of the references to familiar science-fiction or fantasy subjects. A good example is Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore." You've probably heard the song, but the phrase "the ring wraiths ride in black" may not have registered as a Tolkien reference; in fact, the band drew from Tolkien for their songs "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Ramble On" too.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote: "Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definitiveness." Filk proves Poe's statement to be correct by blending a familiar subject with melody in order to create something that delights the listener.

For a sampling of some of the finest examples of filk, check out Ohio Valley Filk Fest Pegasus Awards nominees for best song and best composer. Another good resource for filk fans is Filkipedia.

Do you like film music? If so, who are your favorite artists, and what are your favorite artists? Have you participated in a filk circle?

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